Madison Square Garden is one of the most iconic sports arenas in the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s boxing, hockey. or basketball, just playing there once is the stuff of dreams for many athletes. Of course, Bryant took MSG by storm with a showing that’s still record-breaking.
In 2009, Kobe made history by scoring 61 points, breaking Bernard King’s record for most points scored in the building’s modern era. Carmelo Anthony has since broken that record. However, Kobe still has the accolade of the most points scored by an opponent in MSG.
One of Bryant’s most iconic plays went down in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals. It was a beautiful moment of collaboration between two of the game’s greatest ever athletes. The Lakers were battling Portland with under a minute left on the clock.
The Lakers were up by four when Bryant dribbled into the lane and lobbed up a high arcing pass. O’Neal was there to meet it and dunked it in with one hand. In short, this iconic alley-oop sealed the game. This was also the start of the Lakers’ domination of the NBA.
The 81-point game is more famous, but arguably this was even more impressive. Bryant had a devastating game in 2005 against the Dallas Mavericks a month before the Raptors explosion. He scored 62 points on 31 shots in just 32 minutes of gameplay.
In fact, the Lakers were so good that day that Bryant didn’t even play the final quarter. It could have been a record-breaking performance if he had. Even crazier was the fact that Kobe had scored more points at that stage than the entire Mavericks team. They had just 61 points by the end of the third quarter.
This is the game that sealed Kobe’s championship pedigree. It’s wild to think that at one point people didn’t think he was a winner. However, he got his hands on three titles with O’Neal and then another in 2009. However, arguably his legacy-defining win was in 2010.
His game seven performance against the Celtics saw him carry his team over the line to victory. He averaged 28.6 points per game over the course of the series as the Lakers slogged their way to another NBA championship. It also saw him earn his second straight NBA Finals MVP award.
This Achilles injury was the beginning of the end for Bryant. At 34 years old, it was always going to be a battle to get back to anything near the full extent of his powers. He was playing against the Golden State Warriors when he fell to the ground and grabbed the back of his leg before hobbling to the side of the court.
Despite this, he stayed in the game and two free throws to tie the game at 109. It was a testament to his endurance and resolve because he was willing to battle through injury for the win. All of that even though he suffered one of the worst injuries that can happen to a basketball player.
Of course, Bryant is most famous for what he did on the court. But he stayed busy when he retired. How many NBA stars are also Oscar winners? It just goes to show what a genius Bryant was. In 2018 he won the Oscar for the best short animated film with ‘Dear Basketball,’ alongside his collaborator Glen Keane.
Based on a poem Bryant wrote for The Players’ Tribune, it conveys his love for the game and why he retired. Legendary composer John Williams created the score. It just goes to show what a thoughtful and artistic person Bryant was and it’s fantastic that his legacy lives on in different ways.
Bryant gained a reputation for his ice-cold demeanor. It’s very rare that he got emotional and lost control. Other NBA players thrive from living on the edge, but that’s not how Kobe was. The prime example of this was when he played against the Orlando Magic’s Matt Barnes and didn’t flinch.
The pair were sniping at each other all game with Barnes getting increasingly mad. Known for his volatile personality, Barnes was Kobe’s polar opposite. Officials intervened to calm them down. Barnes had one more trick up his sleeve. He picked the ball up and faked a pass into Kobe’s face. Bryant didn’t even blink.
Only one man has scored more points in a game than Bryant. That was the legendary Walt Chamberlain, who put 100 points on the board. But in the modern era, Bryant is definitely way out in front with this tremendous 81-point effort. It’s almost inconceivable how he did it.
It happened in 2006 against the Raptors. Bryant scored 26 points in the first half but the Lakers were still down by 14. Nobody could have expected the relentless outburst that was about to come. Kobe scored 27 points in the 3rd quarter and 28 in the 4th. In short, it’s one of the greatest performances of all-time and will be forever.
After suffering an Achilles injury, Bryant was never the same again. Especially as he was getting older. He recognized the deterioration of his body and made the decision to retire. But his last game saw him leave him with a bang. In the final match of 2016, he saved his one of his best for last.
Bryant scored a fantastic 60 points, his highest total of the season. It was a vintage performance that had the crowd on their feet because they knew greatness when they saw it. He stood in front of the sold-out Staples Center and thanked them from the bottom of his heart. ‘Mamba out,’ he said.